Wouldn’t you love to go to Japan and visit Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka? Of course! Who wouldn’t? What about Nagoya? …uh…. *crickets chirping* Nagoya is often passed over by tourists rushing from one major city to the next, with little more than a second though. It’s unfortunate because Nagoya has so much to offer that you just can’t find anywhere else. And I’m not talking about using Nagoya as a base for other day trips – I mean the city itself.
After more than five years living in Nagoya, I grow to love it more all the time. It’s high time I share some of the great things to do in Nagoya. This post will make you want to include Nagoya in your next trip to Japan and give it some of the attention it deserves. When you reach the bottom, download the checklist that includes the addresses of the 15 places.
Here are things to do in Nagoya that are worth your time
1 Nagoya Castle
Let’s start things off strong, yeah? This is probably one of the best things to do Nagoya and the main attraction that would lure someone to take a detour on their journey to Kyoto. And for good reason. Nagoya Castle is truly a gem in this city and was the first Japanese castle to be titled a National Treasure in 1930. It’s full of history, which you will learn about as your explore the displays and artifacts on each floor of the castle before reaching the top.
And there are regularly scheduled samurai performances on the weekend, with actors who walk the castle grounds outside of the performance time. Maybe you can get a picture with a samurai or a ninja. There’s also the Honmaru Palace, which is newly rebuilt with the most brilliant wood and in traditional samurai style architecture. Inside you will find painted sliding screen doors with tigers and gold leaf emblazoned on them. They also have a big festival and traditional dance in the summer.
If you only have time to see one thing in Nagoya, let it be the Castle. Here’s what it looks like in the rain!
2 Atsuta Shrine
Another extremely important site, not just in Nagoya but all of Japan, is Atsuta Shrine. It is one of the top sacred Shinto shrines in all of Japan, and is the second largest one. There are worship centres and display areas. An important artifact here is the Kusanagi no Tsurugai, a sword and one the Three Sacred National Treasures. They sometimes hold a Japanese sword forging demonstration. I went once, but it was not as exciting as I thought it would be. There’s also a magnificently gnarly tree that is over 1000 years old.
Atsuta Shrine gets very busy at New Year’s. During this time, people from all over the area come to the Shrine at midnight and in the following week to pray for the next year. They pray for wealth, health, love, exams, and other things like that we care about. There are also rows of food stalls lined up serving all choices of Japanese festival food. I’ve been here twice during New Year’s, but it’s a bit too crowded (and cold) for my liking. I’ll probably go again though because why not. 🙂 If you want to experience a unique Japanese holiday, visit Atsuta Shrine on New Year’s for some great things to do in Nagoya. If you want to experience it in the quiet, come at any other time of the year and enjoy a peaceful walk through the forest.
3 Osu Kannon and shopping arcade
After seeing the rich culture of Nagoya Castle and Atsuta Shrine, why not head over to Osu Kannon and shopping arcade? The two attractions here are a large red Buddhist temple and several covered streets with fun shops. The temple is completely different than the previous two attractions, so don’t worry about seeing something similar.
You will be able to pick up a few souvenirs here, as well as electronics, shoes, clothes, snacks, or stop in at a restaurant for a bite. There is also a large statue of the Japanese maneki neko. Unfortunately, the area around the cat statue is the smoking area, so it’s a bit of a gross place to breathe if you don’t like smoking. You’ll probably be able to find a lot of different iPhone camera accessories here too.
If you are even a little bit into trains, you need to go to the train museum. Heck, even someone who’s not into trains will think it’s cool. It’s quite something to see a whole room filled with different models of Shinkansens and local trains. You can even walk inside some of them and see how the interiors have changed over time. There is information on the Maglev (magnetic levitation) train technology, which by the way, a maglev train is scheduled to be finished in 2027 and will connect Nagoya and Tokyo in only 40 minutes. Wowzers!
The train museum is great for kids and adults alike. A train museum is definitely one of the best things to do in Nagoya.
5 Six different Toyota museums! Actually three museums, two memorial halls, and one forest.
Did you know Nagoya is the home of Toyota? Well, actually Toyota is the home of Toyota, and it’s about 30 minutes outside of Nagoya, but I guess it’s close enough. Anyway, there are a lot of industrial centres in Nagoya, and Toyota is a big one.
There are a few different Toyota museums in Nagoya. So Nagoya is a must-visit city if you like cars. The three most popular ones in Nagoya are the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology, which describes the birth of Toyota from a textile factory, and the Toyota Automobile Museum and Toyota Kaikan Museum, which are full of cars, some of which are really really old and cool. These three museums are all pretty neato and fun things to do in Nagoya.
6 Sakae and Oasis 21
Sakae is a main shopping area and downtown district in Nagoya. This is best place to find cheap and mid-priced clothing, and there are several large department stores as well as foreign brand shops, like H&M and Forever 21. Nearby is a small city park called Hisayaodori Park. There are some trees, but it is often used to hold different weekend festivals. Like a Brazilian festival, Thai festival, Christmas festival, and beer festivals. At the end of the park is the Nagoya city TV tower, which is not quite as grand as Tokyo Tower, but it’s something.
Oasis 21 is a bus stop. I know that doesn’t sound very interesting, but it’s draw is that it’s an interesting shape. It has an oblong shaped roof, kind of like a UFO, which you can go on top of to have a mini romantic walk with your sweety.
This is not something that’s really specific to Nagoya, or Japan for that matter, but it’s still one of themes worthwhile things to do Nagoya. But it’s a really cool museum. All the displays are interactive and there are small performances at specified times. If you don’t already think science is cool (which you should), go here and you will come out amazed. The museum does an amazing job of leaving you in awe of the things around you and the entire universe.
There’s a planetarium as well. I haven’t been here yet because the rest of the museum was so interesting! I spent the whole day there and then the planetarium was closed. So I still need to see the planetarium.
Nagoya Port is an important shipping port for Japan, but there is also a place set up for fun. There’s a little mall with shops and restaurants, an outdoor park area, and different events held at certain times of the year. For example, during Golden Week there is a Yosakoi dancing festival, and on Sea Day in July there is a huge (and busy) summer festival with fireworks.
There’s also an aquarium, which I haven’t been to because I think it would make me sad. But if you’re into seeing sea animals in glass cages, this is where they are.
Just like the aquarium, I wasn’t sure I wanted to visit the Higashiyama Zoo in Nagoya. But one day I was bored, so I went. And I don’t think the animals are living in too horrible conditions. Actually the main reason I went to the zoo was because I wanted to see the cherry blossoms in the botanical garden. But I was having too much fun watching all the animals (especially the screaming monkeys)! Alas, I didn’t make it to the zoo in time. I have heard that the garden is a good place to see the cherry blossoms in spring without too much crowd. Though my favourite place to see cherry blossoms in Nagoya is at Yamazaki River.
There is also a large pond where you can rent foot pedal boats. And there is the Higashiyama Tower where you can have a view of the city or enjoy a romantic dinner. There is even a night zoo during the summer, so you can see the animals at their most active. And scheduled animal feeding times.
I hope this post was able to spark an interest in this great city. Although not as bustling as Tokyo or temple-y as Kyoto, Nagoya has a lot to offer. I’ve given you 9 great reasons to consider adding Nagoya to your your next Japan itinerary. I hope you will see how nice it is here. Of course there is more to Nagoya. I didn’t even mention any parks or gardens or other museums or more shopping areas. Or the loads of fun day trips. But trust me, Nagoya is awesome!
Let me know if you are interested in Nagoya after reading this! And share this post with someone you know who is going to Japan. Let them know these great things to do in Nagoya!
- Castle hopping in the Chubu Region
- How to make the most of your Japan Rail Pass
- Rainy day photography at Nagoya Castle
- Hiking the Nakasendo Trail: Magome to Tsumago